Simone Abbarchi doesn’t remember a time when he didn’t work with shirtmakers. Before he established his own bespoke shirtmaking studio in 1987, which has since become a Florentine institution, he spent time working with just about every notable artisan in the city.
“Sadly, so many artisans in our city have closed,” he says, as we chat on Zoom between my flat in north east London and his shop in the heart of the city, “I’m proud to continue the tradition of shirtmaking in Florence – to be flying the flag for our city’s traditional craft. When I decided to open my own brand, I wanted to be known absolutely as the best shop for made-to-measure shirts in town.”
Certainly, in the 34 years he’s traded under his own name, Simone has done that and more. These days, he’s known as one of the most capable shirtmakers in Europe, with a regular trunk show schedule (COVID-excepted) and a fleet of international clients. I ask him how he’s done this and his answer is straight-forward: “I have always been obsessed with the fine details.”
Not that building his business has always been easy, mind. “When we started in ’87 it was very difficult,” Simone says, thoughtfully. He’s a kindly figure, softly spoken, lean of build and with short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair. “I’d say the first 10 years were relatively slow, but our passion for the product got us through. When we started travelling internationally, that changed things. In 2001, I decided to visit New York, Japan, Washington DC, Miami, London and Moscow. That’s how we got the word out. These visits were much more successful than I was expecting.”
Of course, the other reason the business grew was because the product worked for clients. Abbarchi cuts all his shirts by hand and offers a fully handmade service that’s gained a cult following among menswear aficionados. The simplicity of the Abbarchi silhouette is also a winner: “My shirts are a little different to Neapolitan shirts,” Simone explains. “Neapolitan shirts feature lots of little pleats and tucks, I prefer my shirts to look clean. Of course I like fine details like monograms and hand-stitching, but I don’t like shirts to look fussy.”
Clients have two routes to achieve this signature clean silhouette. The first is Abbarchi’s aforementioned hand-stitched shirt, which uses practically no machine-work. The second, more affordable option is largely machine made, with some hand-finished elements like buttonholes, but is nonetheless impressively clean.
“There are three components that go into a great shirt,” Simone continues. “Fitting is the first, absolutely no question. I like to make comfortable shirts that are flattering and not too tight – nothing too extreme. The fashion for super-extreme, close-fitting shirts does nothing for me. And, I refuse to fit remotely, that’s why I travel so much. I get a lot of requests to make shirts virtually or using online tools, but for first-time clients it’s super-important for me to see them in person.”
That’s not to say that a shirt’s fabric isn’t hugely important, too. “I’ve worked with Thomas Mason for the past 20-years,” says Simone, warmly. “I made so many shirts for Silvio, too.” Silvio, of course, is the late, great Silvio Albini – former paterfamilias of the Albini Group. “I love Thomas Mason’s colours, their palettes are fantastic.” Certainly, the heavily thumbed, much-used and evidently much-loved Thomas Mason swatch books that litter the Abbarchi atelier speak to Simone’s preference for the brand’s fabrics. “I love Thomas Mason’s Oxfords,” he continues, “but at the moment, I’m loving their flannels. We’re making lots of smart-casual shirts with chest pockets for clients in flannel at the moment.”
With so many international customers, 2020 was a challenging year for Abbarchi, but Simone has nonetheless weathered the storm. “COVID completely changed the business, last year was one of the toughest I’ve had,” he says. “But, we’re now returning to the USA, we’ve kept the workshop at capacity [Simone’s workshop is also in Florence, and makes 4,000-5,000 shirts a year] and we’re also responding to our customers’ preference for relaxed, comfortable styling.”
There’s something very poetic about Simone, both in his approach to shirtmaking and in his story. One can’t help but think that he’s a modern day Florentine Master, an artist quietly honing his craft in a small workshop and striving, calmly, for excellence.
The secret to being a successful artisan is to be strong inside. To be resilient. And also to know where you come from.
— Simone Abbarchi
I love Florence, every time I visit New York or London I love come back here. The beauty of this city cannot help but inspire.”